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Foss: An eyesore finally gets demolished in Schenectady

Foss: An eyesore finally gets demolished in Schenectady

Foss: An eyesore finally gets demolished in Schenectady
A crew works to demolish 16 Jefferson St. on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

At long last, the monstrosity is gone. 

The broken-down apartment building at 16 Jefferson St. was demolished by the Capital Region Land Bank on Monday, ridding Schenectady's East Front Street neighborhood of a major nuisance. 

The property first came to my attention in 2018, when Schenectady resident Gerald Plante brought it to my attention.

Vacant for years, covered with vines, with piles of garbage piling up in the back of the property, the building was a good example of the dispiriting blight that afflicts almost every neighborhood in the city of Schenectady. 

It was also, I learned, a good example of the challenges involved in addressing derelict properties. 

When I first visited 16 Jefferson, it was owned by a limited liability corporation in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that purchased the property in 2014 for $1,667, but lost it through foreclosure just four years later after failing to pay $75,000 in back taxes. 

At that point, the city took possession of 16 Jefferson -- a reason, seemingly, for optimism. 

But from the perspective of neighbors, little changed. 

When I wrote about 16 Jefferson St. in April, it was as unsightly and trash-strewn as ever -- a troubling example of the city's own deficiencies as a property owner. Schenectady owns hundreds of vacant buildings, and many of them are in poor condition -- unkempt, unsanitary and unsafe. 

Things began looking up in July, when the Capital Region Land Bank issued a request for bids to demolish 16 Jefferson St. and 10 other vacant properties. After years of stagnation, the building's days were clearly numbered. 

I would have loved to see 16 Jefferson reduced to a pile of rubble, but I was on vacation when the building finally came down. 

When I drove by the site, I couldn't believe how much nicer the street and surrounding buildings looked -- how much cleaner and neater. 

Vacant buildings drag down neighborhoods by attracting crime, lowering property values and sending a message that nobody really cares. Getting rid of 16 Jefferson appears to have given the East Front Street neighborhood a bit of a lift. 

"We're very pleased," said Mary Ann Ruscitto, who lives in the neighborhood and is spearheading an effort to revitalize the East Front Street neighborhood. "It has been a problem spot for quite a while. The druggies and homeless people had been hanging out there." 

"Already, the street looks better," Ruscitto said. "It is a big plus that we don't have (16 Jefferson) anymore." 

The demolition of 16 Jefferson Street should complement Reawakening East Front Street, as the effort to spruce up the neighborhood is known. 

"We're hoping more will happen on that street," Ruscitto told me, adding that she would love to see someone build a new owner-occupied home on the empty lot where 16 Jefferson St. once stood. 

Early this year, Reawakening East Front Street received a $9,000 grant from The Schenectady Foundation's Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge program. The money will pay for new garbage cans and banners welcoming people to the neighborhood, and a mural that depicts the history of the neighborhood, which is nestled between the Stockade and Mohawk Harbor. 

It's a promising project -- and the removal of 16 Jefferson St. should amplify its impact. 

When I caught up with Plante, he told me that he was elated to see 16 Jefferson St. come down. 

But he also questioned whether it would be a catalyst for change in the neighborhood, noting that absentee landlords who neglect their property remain a problem. 

"There's still a lot of litter and trash," Plante noted. 

Plante isn't wrong, but change takes time, and the demolition of 16 Jefferson St. bodes well for the future of the East Front Street neighborhood. 

It was one of hundreds of vacant buildings in Schenectady, and its absence is a small sign of progress. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.     

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